June 16th, 2006

me: wrong side of the mirror

Day 2: First game, Argentina v Serbia-Montenegro

I think he feels pretty, don't you?

We managed to find the Rhine in the morning after falling on a giant breakfast like famished wolves. Unfortunately, our wanderings mean that we missed the 11:00 AM ICE train to Gelsenkirchen for the day's game, Argentina v Serbia-Montenegro at 2:00 PM. Instead we caught the completely packed, and late, 11:45 AM train. With no place to sit in the second-class cars, we unwittingly ended up in the first-class bar with a bunch of Norwegian electricians and an Argentina fan. The Norwegians talked about how expensive Norway is but also insisted we should go to see the fjords. The rather attractive, quite fit and impossibly full of himself Norwegian guy next to me kept leaning in rather close to talk, making me simultaneously uncomfortable and flattered. He and his companions didn't have tickets and were openly jealous of ours, as they were planning to purchase theirs from touts. They mostly seemed determined to pour as much beer as possible into themselves as quickly as possible. I was one of two girls, or anyone else of the female persuasion, in the entire car. Fortunately the other one was very pretty and also had a boyfriend so we received about equal shares of attention. For the first, but certainly not the last, time on the trip, I was bowled over by how well everyone we met spoke English.

The crush to get into the tram to the stadium from the train platform was like nothing I've ever been in. Being wily, I snagged a seat positioning myself slightly to the side of the door and slithering through the crowd. The Argentinian supporters began singing while we were at the platform and drumming on any available surface, and they never stopped. The supporters outside the stadium without tickets were just as excited to be there as those passing through the gates.

We had brilliant seats right in the midst of all the Argentina fans, including a TV presenter. He told Marco he turns into a five year old at every game, he's so wound up and nervous. He was evidently of some renown as the fans would mob him and his cameraman every time their team scored, which they did six times. It was by far the biggest thumping of the tournament. We saw the rising stars, Messi and Tevez, play. Messi scored in the first ten minutes after taking the field. Through my telephoto lens, I saw the legendary Maradona across the stadium with his family, jumping up and down like a kid. I showed the picture on my LCD screen to the Argentinians behind us, who passed it around, babbling excitedly in Spanish too quick for me to follow. I felt quite badly for a pair of Serbia-Montenegro fans a quiet-looking middle-aged man and what appeared to be his father, a rather stately older gentleman. They sat in front of us and stuck out the whole game, as depressed as they must have been at the result. Later, in the Fan Fest area just ouside the city watching Holland play the Cote d'Ivoire on the big screen, we saw many Serbia-Montenegro fans jumping around and celebrating as cheerily as if they'd won. Like Trinidad & Tobago, I think their expectations weren't great, but they were just glad to be in the World Cup.

Germans and Argentinians packed like sardines into our tram car on the ride back to the station. They sang competing songs, whistled derisively at one another and jumped up and down so vigorously that the car bounced on the tracks. One German song went something like "Without Holland, we're going to Berlin," a reference to the previous World Cup. One of the Argentinian songs went "Yo soy Argentina/Ese sentimiento/No puedo parar" which means something like "I am Argentina/This feeling/I cannot stop," which is quite patriotic. We heard fans of other Spanish-speaking countries attempt to appropriate it but due to the number of syllables required, they ended up saying, for instance, "I am from Ecuador," which isn't quite the same meaning.

We caught the fast ICE train back to Köln and a German guy across from us struck up a conversation after watching us peruse our little World Cup schedules that we were using to track the scores. We talked about football, of course. He'd been at the same game and it was also his first time attending an international match. He turned out to be quite bright and also very earnest. He explained to us that it was a great joy for him to see the Germans displaying unabashed patriotic pride (not to be confused with nationalism) for the first time in sixty years. He'd never seen people display the flag in their windows, wearing their country's team shirts, painting their faces and singing patriotic songs as we had in the tram. They've been fearful for so long, ever since he could remember, of their international image and of giving offense. Rightfully so, I suppose, but it's fantastic that the young Germans have this opportunity to expiate the sins of the past and to celebrate being German in such a positive way. It's a striking contrast to the usual sorts of reports one sees in the international news, which tends to highlight the latest nationalist uprising and make everybody paranoid all over again.